About four years ago I planted a mulberry bush for no other reason than it was something unusual to have growing in the front garden. I’d never expected it to fruit as mulberries are seldom seen in shops so I assumed that they were a temperamental thing to grow.
However, this Spring the fruits began to show and by August we had a small, but very tasty, crop of large, red mulberries. I took it to be a sign…if the bush was to fruit, Coventry would also harvest the fruits of its efforts. We were picking the berries at much the same time Cov supporters were being told that this was the season Cov would make a determined push for promotion, recruitment had gone well and optimism was high. It had to auger well for the future.
12 weeks on and things haven’t gone quite to plan.
The initial optimism has somewhat waned, to be replaced by a sense of foreboding that it might be much harder to turn things around than we had initially thought after the first couple of losses. The club has understandably ‘closed shop’ to deal with any internal issues that might have arisen, not wanting to wash their dirty linen in public. Supporters, equally understandably, have turned to speculation to explain the poor performances in the absence of any comments from the club.
And the mulberry tree? Well it now stands rather forlornly, the leaves having been shed as the temperature falls, the evenings draw in and winter beckons. The one mirrors the other.
However, despite the inevitability of winter, one leaf remains. A symbol that despite the odds, all is not quite lost. A triumph of hope over adversity. It’s been there for a few days now and I’ve marvelled at its determination to resist the irresistible, against all the odds. It will succumb eventually, but not without a fight.
And I guess that’s where I am, unwilling to accept what at the moment appears to be the inevitable; mid-table mediocrity and yet another false dawn to go with the collection of other false dawns we’ve had over the last couple of decades. I retain the belief that by the end of the season we will be in a much better, much stronger position that we are now.
Away at Esher next weekend is going to be as hard a game as we’ve had all season. They’ve won 6 of their 8 games, winning all but one of their home games , their only loss being to Ampthill on the first weekend of the season. They’ve won four consecutive games and are one of the form teams in the league. Coventry, have lost four of their last 6 games. It doesn’t bode well. But there’s always hope. A leaf clinging to the tree…and like the leaf on the mulberry tree, I won’t give up hope.
There were times last season when we’d be away from home and expect the win, but not this season. Blaydon at home the week after, well that has to be a banker, there’s no other way to describe it. But Esher, well that’s going to be a different prospect altogether. A win would be a real bonus; the performance is going to be as crucial as the result itself. Opposition of the calibre of Esher will be an ideal test of how effectively the Coventry coaches have made use of the free weekend caused by the World Cup final. I imagine the break came just at the wrong time for Esher given their recent form, but for Coventry it was much needed, providing a chance to regroup and:
sit down, look at a few things and take stock of where we are and analyse what’s going on. CET – World Cup Weekend
One can’t help but draw parallels between Coventry’s present plight and that of Chelsea FC. Both tipped for successful seasons, both woefully underperforming, both facing criticism from supporters and both coaches/managers needing a rapid change in fortunes to avoid further pressure on their roles within the club. Okay, media speculation surrounding Mourinho is rather more intense but certainly there are enough similarities between the two to make the analogy.
Sonny Bill Williams’ comments when asked why he gave his Cup Winners’ medal away to a young fan immediately after the game are worth brief mention here, too…
The bonds that we have as brothers in the changing room are the most important thing.
In other words, it’s about playing as a team and playing for each other. It’s about being a band of brothers.
Unlike Chelsea, I don’t think there are any issues amongst the players. If there are issues, and this still has to be confirmed or denied, then they’re between the players and the coaches. If social media is any indication, then the players are all very supportive of each other, morale is high and there’s plenty of self-belief. All elements that will be needed to stop this season turning into yet another of those false dawns.
It is easy to be critical of performances on the pitch and doubtless there are individuals who have not delivered as much in games as we might have hoped. However, is the real problem caused by players who underperform, the selection of the teams, the coaching setup or a combination of the three? Probably the latter, but I do think the players are the least to blame for Coventry’s dismal start to the season.
This might not go down too well with some, but I do genuinely believe this to be the case. Injuries have forced many players, especially in the backs, to play out of position and in combinations that seem to differ from week to week. This obviously makes the coaches job a difficult one too, but the game-plans utilised by Coventry appear to negate any creativity or individuality
For instance, in the last couple of games, there has been willingness from the coaches to allow the backs to run with the ball and provide enough width for the wings to get into the game. Instead, forwards and backs receive flat ball time and time again with little or no opportunity for the backs to run their lines in order to open up the oppositions’ defence. Phase after phase we just meet opponents head-on with the result that no territorial advantage is gained. This and a tendency to kick the ball into the opposition half without a real chase mean that individual skills aren’t given the chance to shine. It’s hard to see the justification.
And this can’t be just down to the players not playing to the coaches instructions. It must be at least in part down to the instructions themselves. That’s why I think some of the criticism of Jones in particular is a little unfair. He’s a class player who last season unlocked defences time and time again with cross kicks, missed passes, chips over the top and so on but this year he just hasn’t had the opportunity, or hasn’t been given that opportunity. I don’t accept that any player goes onto a pitch not prepared to give their best (although on Radio 5 live today it’s rumoured that one of the Chelsea players would rather lose than win for his manager…). If it goes wrong, it’s not going to be for the want of trying.
That’s why I think we supporters have a massive part to play in Coventry’s recovery. I don’t see anything wrong with criticism being expressed on the Messageboard or on websites and blogs such as this one, provided it is fair and balanced and not personal. And nor should the club…it shows passion and pride.
However, during the game is a different matter. Singling out players creates division and that is something we must avoid. At home games, a wall of noise from 1200+ supporters cheering their team on is going to make a huge difference to the morale of the players.
It’s something we’ve repeatedly heard from them in the past, that they are genuinely lifted by such support. And when things aren’t going so well, maybe we need look for a positive – a tackle made, a turnover of ball, a break through opposition defences and use that to get behind the team. At the moment, the Butts is a bit flat and lacks the atmosphere of previous seasons. Numbers might be down but not enough to explain the lack of noise at times. It is something that doesn’t happen in away games where the Cov supporters tend to be much more vocal, often out-shouting, if not out-numbering, the home support.
So come Blaydon, I hope we will have seen, at the very least, a significant improvement in Coventry’s performance at Esher. Hopefully, there will be a large and vociferous crowd ready to get behind Cov and a willingness amongst the coaches to let the ‘Cov dog’ off the leash for parts of the game, enabling the backs to express themselves a little more, as they did against Cardiff, Ealing, Wharfedale and Loughborough.
And on the branches of my mulberry the buds that will burst into life next year are already starting to show and below ground the roots are strong and healthy. No different to Coventry. Strong roots, plenty of talent but just going through a barren patch. Hopefully, though, we won’t have to wait until March to see the green shoots of success.
In June 2008 on his appointment as the new Director of Rugby at Coventry, Phil Maynard said:
The major incentive for me is what Cov are and meeting the high expectations of their supporters because they vote with their feet. In that respect it raises the bar for me.
At times over his tenure, Phil and his team undoubtedly met the high expectations of supporters, last year perhaps being the pinnacle of his time at the Butts. But expectations certainly aren’t being met at the moment and as he correctly surmised, supporters are voting with their feet. The average gate is down 400 this season already and will continue to fall unless performances start to pick up. The bar is raised higher now than it’s ever been…the question is, how high can Phil and his team jump?
(CET – Phil Maynard appointed Director of Rugby – June 2008)
Should be an interesting couple of weeks…
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”